700 Children's Blog

Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Jul 03, 2018
image of two hands covered with a rash

What is Hand-Foot-Mouth disease?

Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease is a fairly common childhood illness caused by a virus. It is most common in children, but it can affect anyone.

Being aware of Hand-Foot-Mouth symptoms, treatment and prevention can help families cope and set your child on course for a speedy recovery.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease can vary depending on severity and when treatment begins. Symptoms often go away in five to seven days and can include:

  • The throat and tonsils develop small painful sores (ulcers).
  • The hands, feet and diaper area have a rash of very small blisters or red spots. The tiny blisters are usually on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. They are tender or painful if pressed.
  • Painful mouth and throat sores can appear. Mouth sores can often be hard to see and can cause difficulty swallowing or drooling. This may lead to dehydration. Signs of dehydration include dry skin or lips, an infant’s “soft spot” pulling in, or a child not making tears when crying. This can usually be managed at home with over the counter pain medication.
  • Fever.
  • Headaches.
  • Sore throat.
  • Poor appetite.

Where does it come from and when is it most prevalent?

Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease is most common in children during the summer and fall. The disease is spread by bodily fluids from person to person, especially during the first week of their illness. Body fluids can include mucous from the nose, saliva, fluid from the sores and traces of bowel movements. Good hand-washing habits and using disinfectant in the bathroom, on toys and other objects your child touches can help prevent spread of the disease.

What is the treatment and typical time for healing of Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease?

Because Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease is a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics; however, you can treat the symptoms at home. Most children with Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease get better without any complications and the symptoms often last five to seven days. Suggestions for symptom relief include:

  • Acetaminophen may be used for the headache, fever and sore throat.
  • Ibuprofen may also be used for children ages 6 months and older.
  • Aspirin should never be given to children or teenagers unless directed by your doctor.
  • Salt water mouth rinses (1/2 teaspoon of salt to 1 glass of warm water) may be soothing if your child is able to rinse without swallowing.
  • For children over one year of age, give lots of liquids, such as water, milk and popsicles. Avoid fruit juices (such as orange juice) that are high in acid. These may irritate the mouth sores.
  • For children under one year, give breast milk, formula or fluids that replenish electrolytes.

When should you call a doctor or keep your child out of school?

If symptoms last for longer than a week, call to make an appointment with your child’s provider. Call your pediatrician immediately if your child:

  • Is dehydrated. Your child has not had a wet diaper for 4 to 6 hours for babies and toddlers or has not needed to urinate in the past 6 to 8 hours for older children.
  • Does not improve in a few days.
  • Has neck or chest pain.
  • Has a fever (temperatures over 100.4°) that does not come down with medication.
  • Shows signs of seizures or lethargy.

What can I do to prevent my child from getting the disease?

Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease is spread through bodily fluids and common in areas where children share space, such as daycares, schools, or play places. Infected people are most likely to spread the disease during the first week of their illness; however, the virus can remain in the stool for several weeks or months! Washing hands with soap and water, especially after using the toilet, is the most important way to prevent infection. Disinfecting bathrooms, toys and other objects your child touches can also help prevent spread of the disease.

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Featured Expert

Pediacast
Mike Patrick, MD
Emergency Medicine, Physician Team; Interactive Media, Medical Director; Host of PediaCast

Dr Mike Patrick is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Medical Director of Interactive Media for Nationwide Children's Hospital. Since 2006, he has hosted the award-winning PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. Millions of listeners in all 50 U.S. states and over 100 countries have tuned-in to this weekly podcast for pediatric news, answers to listener questions and interviews with pediatric and parenting experts. Dr Mike also produces a national podcast for healthcare providers—PediaCast CME, which explores general pediatric and faculty development topics and offers free AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ to listeners. In addition to podcasting, Dr Mike serves as a Spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and with the Executive Committee of the AAP’s Council on Communications and Media. He frequently shares evidence-based recommendations with television, newspaper and radio audiences, including a weekly health segment on local CBS affiliate 10TV. He is a featured author of the 700 Children's Blog and has contributed to several print publications, including Parents Magazine and Working Mother Magazine. Dr Mike also developed and directs an academic healthcare communications and social media curriculum for residents and medical students at Ohio State. This elective experience equips learners with the practical skills needed to promote health literacy and child advocacy in the digital space. Prior to his involvement with communications and media, Dr Mike spent 10 years as a general pediatrician in an underserved area. He currently practices with the Section of Emergency Medicine at Nationwide Children's in Columbus.

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700 Children’s features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.